Tuesday, July 24, 2012
Monday, June 11, 2012
Revisiting Masculinity: The father’s journey with autism
by Robert Naseef, Ph.D.
When my son was born in November 1979, I jumped for joy. When he was diagnosed with autism 4 years later, I thought my head was going to explode. I couldn’t get the word autism out of my mouth for months.
In general, it is harder for men to talk about problems than women. Women seem able to talk about problems and find comfort without needing to fix them. Of course, women do want to fix problems. As for men, when we can't fix something, we don't want to talk about it—and this is a factor in male depression and a problem in relationships.
As Nelson Mandela wrote, “A boy may cry; a man conceals his pain.” Boys are still taught at a young age to feel ashamed of their tender feelings, especially their gentleness, caring, vulnerability, and fear. What is acceptable is showing their tough, action-oriented side along with physical strength. All emotions save anger are to be hidden even from themselves. So what’s a man to do when his child is diagnosed? How do you handle that choked up feeling? Men tend to withdraw and cry on the inside. On the outside we may be grumpy and irritable, but on the inside we are hurting. This is part of the secret life of men raising a child with autism.
I wanted to be a better version of my father when I held my son Tariq for the first time. I looked at my son and saw myself, only better. His diagnosis of classic autism shattered that reflected vision, like a broken mirror. There were no words.
Asking a male how he feels usually evokes an automatic “I don’t know.” What helps men express themselves when experiencing a broken mirror with an autistic child, 80% of whom are boys? Try “Guy talk” such as:
• What’s it like for you? (Curiosity works better than empathy)
• Tell me more.
• I need to know to be closer to you as your / wife/ friend/ brother, etc.
• Your child needs you.
• Let’s figure out a plan.
Men respond to making an action plan. This is a positive part of the male code and not outmoded. Our families need us to be present, and as fathers we are yearning for connection but lost about where to start with a child who is so different.
To find clues, I ask men about their warmest memories of their fathers. Almost without exception they recount doing things with their dads such as taking a ride or a walk, building or fixing stuff, going on errands, cleaning up the yard, watching TV, or throwing a ball around.
The essence of every good memory tends to be doing things together. This fits the male mode of being. It’s not everything. But it’s a good start and it works every day. We still need to get up to speed listening better and expressing ourselves. We’re a work in progress.
Wednesday, May 16, 2012
I yelled! Am I a bad parent?
by Robert Naseef, Ph.D.
by Robert Naseef, Ph.D.
Parents frequently confide to me when they have lost their patience. Fathers as well as mothers share their guilt and their heartbreak when this occurs. As one mother said to me recently, "My mother yelled at us, and I vowed to never yell at my children. Now I'm becoming a yeller. What's wrong?"
Just last week a father told me about how he lost it with his four-year-old son with Asperger's. After picking up his son from school, he stopped at the convenience store for his wife to pick up milk for the next day's breakfast. His son did not want to stop and had a full-scale meltdown. When he didn’t calm down, his father started yelling at him. Now just a few days later, his father was wracked with guilt.
This father like other parents felt guilty. I assured him that his reaction was not unusual and did not indicate that he was a bad parent just because he lost his patience. He told me that his son had made tremendous progress since being diagnosed over a year ago, and he just couldn't understand this.
I briefly discussed with him that difficulty regulating emotions was more often than not one of the challenges that goes along with being diagnosed on the autism spectrum. Changes in routine, such as stopping at the store, can often be a trigger. This occurs all along the spectrum from mild to moderate to severe.
By the end of our counseling session together, this father looked at me and came to his own conclusion. "I have been expecting too much. That's the lesson I'm learning. I have to do better at managing my expectations; that's the only way I can remain patient during situations like this."
Of course this sounds simple, but in the moment it is easier said than done. In order to manage expectations, it is important to understand the individual developmental profile of your child. The best way to understand this is to learn everything possible about your child's diagnosis and communicate regularly with your child's teachers and therapists.
In terms of your expectations about yourself, let's be clear: it is normal to struggle with your patience in challenging situations. So the next time your child has a meltdown, take a breath—or two or three. Then ask yourself what you're expecting and how reasonable that is in the moment you are presently in with your child.
Moment by moment, day by day, being mindful of these issues, you and your child will both grow.
Tuesday, May 8, 2012
Mothers Day Hints for Men
by Robert Naseef, Ph.D.
First of all, struggling with taking a break from maternal responsibilities is normal. This is hard for the mothers of typical children—who presumably have a little less to be preoccupied about than mothers of children who have autism and other special needs.
So feeling overwhelmed by the enormous responsibilities of motherhood is normal, but when it goes on indefinitely, it’s not healthy for a mother or her family. And fathers tend to begin feeling left out and neglected. While I frequently write about fathers, I spend a good deal of my time as a psychologist listening to mothers. Almost invariably mothers seem to be relieved when they give voice to their struggles—particularly the guilt about not doing enough or missing something they should have done or thought about.
Opening up and connecting about upsetting situations can help. On the other hand, suggesting that a mother do more to take care of herself often makes her feel worse. Listening to mothers in at Alternative Choices, we hear that this can sound like just one more thing to do. Their lists are already too long. And another thing they just aren’t getting right—even more guilt!
One mom even told me, “My life seems like one long day!”
In contrast, the average overwhelmed father seems to have less difficulty taking a break. On the other hand, he may also have trouble talking about what he cannot fix or take action about. He may shut down out of helplessness and emotional overload that he has no words for. The very same man may love his partner and children passionately; yet he may feel left out, ignored, and powerless.
This reaction offers no outlet for his partner’s feelings.
Still, most fathers admire when the mother of their children reacts like a mother lion with her cub, doing everything possible to raise their child.
So for this Mothers and Day and every day really, here’s a plan for men:
• Tell your partner how much you appreciate her and everything she does for your children. Be specific about all the wonderful things she does and how hard she tries.
• Don’t do something. Don’t make suggestions. Volunteer to just listen to how she feels.
• Ask what you can do to make her job easier.
• Gently and persistently keep asking and showing up to do stuff.
This is how to be a good man in your situation. Help her to take a breath, literally and figuratively. Let her know that she is indispensable. No one can do a better job. In the words of Oliver Wendell Holmes, “The real religion of the world comes from women much more than from men—from mothers most of all, who carry the key of our souls in their bosoms.”
Finally, remember the most important thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother.
Friday, April 27, 2012
Helping Fathers Bond with Children with Autism
by Robert Naseef, Ph.D.
As Nelson Mandela observed, “A boy may cry; a man conceals his pain.” There is a traditional male imperative to “suck it up,” so men tend to cry on the inside. On the outside we may be grumpy and irritable, but on the inside we are hurting. Life doesn’t stand still and wait for us. Families need fathers to express themselves, and to spend time teaching, playing, and otherwise engaged. Children with autism hunger for their fathers’ involvement and approval just like every other child.
In opening up, possibilities emerge for fathers about ways to connect with their children who relate and experience the world differently because of autism. For example:
• Their children may be drawn to Lego’s or video games as opposed to sports, and they want us to be there with them.
• They may struggle with language to express themselves, so we have to learn to read their nonverbal clues.
• Sensory differences and difficulty regulating emotion may trigger shutdowns and meltdowns so we have to learn to be sensitive to these issues.
Children with autism are also just children; growing up is about more than just the necessary therapies. So find something parent and child can do together and enjoy. It could be as simple as taking a walk or a ride in the car. Or get on the floor and play with cars or blocks in whatever way your child likes for starters.
By entering the autistic world of our children and understanding how their minds work, as opposed to trying to make them who we want them to be, we learn how to be with them. Only then can we grow together. Fathers involved in the daily lives of children inspire with their love and devotion.
Thursday, March 29, 2012
Life with Aspergers: Book Review: “Loving Someone with Asperger’s Syndr...: Over the years, I’ve read quite a few relationship books, some have been good, some were bad and some were truly great. Most of these book...
Friday, February 24, 2012
It can be hard, if not impossible for some people to see something that (they think) needs to be fixed and do nothing. It's maddening. Twice last week, when working with adolescents I saw the need to help, to fix what I saw to be a problem, and twice last week I was shut down. I've thought about it and realized that as a caregiver it can be difficult to refrain from rushing in to help. Whether it is a person with an addiction, an aging parent, or a young person dealing with the frustrations of a world that doesn't always understand them, the impulse to fix, to help, is overwhelming. What we miss in our rush to fix, however, is the opportunity to listen. The chance to simply be present and aware for someone. To allow them to talk, as much or as little as they are ready to about what is going on. To simply BE for someone without extensive probing, without questioning them, without solving things. Sometimes it is the process of the problem; sitting with the issue, allowing it to develop on its own that is the learning, that is, truly, the fixing. So I will be working on my new mantra this week "shut up and listen". Wish me luck. Kelly Peters, MA